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Sunny stared at the little girl, trying not to lose his composure.

'...What is wrong with these people?'

He had two horns, a mouth full of sharp fangs, long claws, and four damned arms... and yet, the first thing that both Effie and Kai had reacted to was his height. Was he not allowed to be tall, for once?!

Continuing to pretend to fight the monstrous child in earnest, he pointed to his chest instead of an answer. Effie, too, slowed down her relentless assault a bit — just enough to give him some breathing room without making her changed attitude obvious.

A few moments later, when they were close to each other, she hissed quietly:

"Let me guess, you saw the message I left that said to not come to the Temple of Chalice... and, naturally, decided to do the exact opposite."

Sunny spun, avoiding her fist, and raised two fingers.

The girl frowned.

"Two... someone else is with you? Cassie? Kai? Ah, it's Kai... so, both of you decided to ignore my warning!"

She deflected his dagger to the side, grimaced when it slid over a barely healed laceration on her forearm, and then squeaked in her childish voice:

"Well... good! I, uh... I might have been too full of myself, thinking that I would be able to actually escape this damned place. So... I am really, really glad that you came..."

Sunny thrust his greatsword forward, narrowly missing the girl's head, and then let out a low growl.

Effie gritted her teeth.

"But, Sunny... we have two problems. One is that these lunatics never let their disciples leave the sect alive. The second... the second is that if one of us doesn't kill the other in this duel, my teachers are going to kill us both... so..."

She caught his sword with one hand, then brought her fist on its blade, shattering it and making Sunny stumble.

"...so I hope that you have a plan! No, I know you do! Don't you?"

Despite how beaten and bruised the girl was, her soft voice sounded optimistic and cheerful. Knowing that Effie was confident in his ability to get them both out of this dire situation alive, somehow, Sunny felt very validated.

...The problem was that he did not have a plan. In fact, he didn't have the slightest idea about how to survive this mess.

Yet.

So, he simply shook his head, making Effie pale and grow silent.

As they continued to fight, Sunny thought feverishly. He didn't see any chance of escaping the Temple of the Chalice without a bloody battle against the War Maidens, as well as any way for the three of them to come up on top in that battle.

Effie was strong and fearsome, but she was not Solvane. She would not have been able to fight her way out of the sect as that fiend had. With Kai and Sunny added into the equation, however...

Things still didn't look too good.

Out of the three, Sunny was the powerhouse. Even though his physical might was lesser than that of the huntress, overall, he was a much, much deadlier creature. Added to that were his three Shadows, two of which were Ascended Demons, while the third was an Awakened Terror.

Sunny alone was most likely enough to contain two out of the three senior War Maidens, at least. Effie would have to handle the third one... which would leave Kai alone against dozens of Awakened warriors gathered in the hall. That wouldn't work. No matter how Sunny moved the elements of the theoretical battle, nothing gave them a good chance of escaping alive.

However, there had to be a way... the War Maidens had been defeated in the future, after all, so they were not invincible...

Thinking of the future, he hesitated for a moment, and then glanced at the massive stone chalice towering in the center of the hall, full of furious white flame. Unlike in the future, it was still whole and imposing, the complex enchantment that permeated the ancient stone holding the mass of divine fire contained inside.

His face grew dim.

'I don't like this idea... no, I don't like it at all...'

Indeed, he was not happy with the seed of a plan that suddenly appeared in his mind. Not only because it would be extremely dangerous and hard to pull off, but also because going through with it had broader, far-reaching implications he didn't want to think about.

But no matter how hard Sunny thought, he couldn't come up with anything else to do. If moving the elements did not work, the only way to achieve his goal was to change them.

With a deep sigh, he concentrated for a few moments, and then gestured Effie to keep close.

At the same time, several things happened.

Outside of the circle of runes, Saint lowered the Soul Serpent and then outstretched one hand, which suddenly became shrouded in a swarm of white sparks. She took a small step to the side to shield Kai with her body. Both actions caused the War Maidens surrounding them to grow tense, their hands gripping the hilts of their weapons.

Within the circle, Sunny had become surrounded by countless onyx threads that ensnared his body. One of his four hands was enveloped by a swarm of scarlet sparks, one in a black fog, and the other two in a swirling mass of dancing sparks of white light.

The three senior Maidens overseeing the fight frowned when they saw the four-armed demon undergo a strange transmutation. Although just a little, their stances shifted, revealing their readiness to intervene should a need arise.

But they didn't move yet, reluctant to intrude upon the duel without an undeniable reason.

A few seconds later, a kite shield forged out of dull steel appeared on Saint's arm, while the odachi she held silently slid into the shadows. Sunny was suddenly clad in intricate onyx armor, holding a somber spear in one of his lower hands and an austere tachi in another.

Finally, a black bow with a scarlet string and a strange arrow that seemed to be made out of a bolt of lightning appear in his upper hands.

[Patinet Avenger], [Cruel Sight], [Midnight Shard], [Morgan's Warbow], [Strike of Thunder]... and [Mantle of the Underworld] augmented by [Memory of Fire].

He had summoned all these Memories at the same time, knowing that he might not have a chance to do so later.

...And there was one last Memory that he had called upon.

As the light around him suddenly dimmed, the shape of a small black lantern started to manifest itself in the air.

Spinning around before the senior War Maidens reacted, Sunny nocked the Strike of Thunder on the string of his bow. Then, he poured a massive flood of essence into the bow and drew it, activating the [Death Dealer] enchantment.

...[Unbending] Enchantments Description: "This adamantine bow demands a giant's might to be bent. Because of that, arrows shot from it travel as far as the eye can see, and strike with terrible strength, piercing both armor and flesh."

[Death Dealer] Enchantment Description: "This bow is able to consume a large amount of essence to deliver an obliterating strike."

And, finally:

[Caged Lightning] Enchantment Description: [This arrow strikes as fast as a bolt of lightning, and chains its devastating damage to several nearby creatures.]

Feeling his reserves of essence instantly diminish by a vast amount, Sunny gritted his teeth and released the string. At the last moment, all three of his shadow slid off his fingers and wrapped themselves around the Strike of Thunder.

And so, this Ascended arrow of the Second Tier was sent flying from an Ascended bow of the Fourth Tier, its power augmented manyfold by the three shadows and the obliterating influence of the [Death Dealer] enchantment.

A shot like that... would probably be enough to kill a Master. The arrow was too fast to be intercepted, as well.

However, Sunny had not aimed at any of the three senior War Maidens.

Instead, he aimed his arrow... at the stone chalice. And not anywhere on it, at that. No, he sent the Strike of Thunder at the exact spot on the ancient stone surface where the weave of invisible runes was the most intense and elaborate.

Sunny doubted that even this combination of powers and enchantments would be enough to deal real damage to the stone vessel. However, if he could destroy a small, but important part of its enchantment... the divine flame contained within would do the rest.

...As the bolt of lightning streaked through the air toward the chalice, he grabbed the little girl and dashed behind one of the columns, then knelt and hugged her with all four arms, covering her little body with his.

At the same time, Saint pushed Kai back and raised her shield, covering them both.

Before anyone could react, the furious lightning struck the side of the giant stone chalice...

And then, everything became white.